In a sea of turmoil that is the Middle East today, one country stubbornly refuses to get sucked in – Jordan. Travelling there is generally safe as long as you avoid the immediate vicinity of the borders with Iraq and Syria. For a relatively small country, Jordan sure packs some incredibly spectacular sights that can all be visited in about a week’s time. Especially if you rent your own wheels, which will give you the freedom to appreciate the place even more so, as driving there is quite the joy in itself.
1 week Jordan itinerary
Amman – Madaba – Dead Sea – Karak – Petra – Wadi Rum – Aqaba – Amman
The easiest place to start from is the capital, Amman, since that’s where you’re likely to land. Don’t let the city disillusion you about the country, as I promise it is by far the least impressive place you’ll visit. Take your car and drive over to Jarash, a well preserved ancient Roman city and take in the splendor of its remains.
Next head over to Madaba, which hosts a number of old Greek orthodox churches and splendid byzantine era mosaics.
Now the next stage is where I really loved having my own wheels! Heading from Madaba to the Dead Sea we were rewarded with absolutely magnificent views of the desert hills and winding roads which lead to the famous Dead Sea. The infrastructure is really good and driving on the quite deserted roads was a real joy.
A great place to stop on your way from Madaba is the Dead Sea Panorama complex that explains all about the geological features of the area. It also has one hell of a view in addition to its restaurant.
We stayed in ideally located houses called Mujib Chalets, perched just above the sea. In comparison to 5 star hotels, I’d take them any day, as you get privacy and a terrace overlooking the Dead Sea just a few 10 meters away. Perfect for sunsets!
Swimming is of course a must once there. And when I say swimming, I mean floating as even if you want to swim, you cant do much more than flap around on your back. Don’t even think about trying to put your head under water or you’ll be extremely sorry. Just tasting the sea with the tip of your tongue will set your senses on fire, as the lake doesn’t even taste salty, but more like tasting lava.
If you stay in the above mentioned chalets, you will be in an excellent place to go exploring Wadi Mujib, which is literally just behind the houses and the entrance is a walking distance away. Wadi Mujib is basically a narrow gorge with spectacularly colored walls and a stream running through its entire width. Wear something you’re not afraid to damage as you will be walking in water.
After about 20 minutes, you reach a point where the water gets deep and that’s where the real fun starts! Up ahead you have about 45 minutes of climbing ladders, ropes and rocks as you battle your way to your final point – a waterfall! It’s an extremely fun activity, but be careful as it gets a bit challenging and very slippery.
Back then I didn’t have a GoPro yet, so I had to leave my camera behind in order not to destroy it. That’s why there’s unfortunately no picture of the fun that lies ahead.
A worthwhile stop on the way between the Dead Sea and Petra is the sprawling castle of Karak, which again takes you on some superb driving among the hills. Just remember to fill up your tank, as there aren’t many petrol stations in the area (at least not when I visited back in 2012).
Now for probably the most famous place in Jordan, Petra. Without a doubt it is an incredible sight to visit, however I think the true sign of just how spectacular Jordan is, is the fact that Petra was only my 4th favorite place I had visited during my travel.
That might also have to do with the fact that it is by far the most touristy of all the sights I’ve seen. It wasn’t over the top, but still, in my experience places tend to lose some of their charm and energy when so many people are around.
Having said that, it’s still well worth visiting, as you don’t get to see a whole city carved in rock every day!
Our next stop was the mesmerizing Wadi Rum, where we signed up for a 4WD trip, which included an overnight stay in a desert camp. Our guides, the local Bedouin people were an extremely friendly and super fun bunch. This, along with the short trip in Wadi Mujib, were my favorite places in Jordan. The desert landscape punctuated by surreal hills simply take your breath away. And staying overnight is a well worth it experience.
We finished our trip in Aqaba, or to be more precise in its surroundings, as the real treat are the coral reefs and the supreme snorkeling and diving which they offer. The negative side is that unless you are staying in a resort, the beaches are absolutely disgusting as the locals visit them in droves and don’t seem to put any consideration in keeping them clean – think buried barbecue leftovers, urine, litter,… Do yourself a favor and stay in a resort or head straight for the sea, without stopping to sit down on the beach.
Aqaba’s unclean beaches aside, Jordanians surely have to be vying for the title of the friendliest people in the world! The number of times somebody went well out of their way to help us out in that week was just astounding. Once I bought a SIM card in a small store in Madaba and I was having problems activating the internet package. Well the owner didn’t know how to do it either, but that didn’t stop him, did it?!
Nope, in no time there were five of his neighboring store owners having a go at it, once he took me out in the street in search of help. I don’t know how it is where you come from, but where I come from if the store owner didn’t know how to help me, that would be it, he wouldn’t go out of his way to go walking from shop to shop in order to find someone to help out.
Another amazing experience was on our way from the Dead Sea to Karak, where we got lost as Google Maps navigation wasn’t that good at the time. Basically I stopped to ask a man how to continue my way and not only did he explain, he actually said it’s a bit complicated and immediately told me he will lead me there. So he got in his car and I followed in mine for at least 5km, before he was sure that we wouldn’t get lost beyond that point.
That was in one week and I left out two other instances where Jordanians went out of their way to help us. Really, such good people!